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Gone with the Wind | Study Guide

Margaret Mitchell

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Course Hero. "Gone with the Wind Study Guide." July 13, 2017. Accessed June 10, 2023.


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Gone with the Wind | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Part 1

Scarlett O'Hara is a willful, attractive 16-year-old who lives on her father's plantation, Tara, with her parents and her two sisters. Every boy in the county is in love with her, but she secretly loves her neighbor's son, Ashley Wilkes. When she finds out Ashley is engaged to his cousin Melanie, she is heartbroken. But that doesn't stop her from pursuing him. During a party at the Wilkes's home Scarlett flirts with every male in sight, including newcomer Rhett Butler and the young and naïve Charles Hamilton. Then, when she finds Ashley alone, she confesses her love to him. Ashley admits he cares for her, but he insists he must and will marry Melanie, a far more placid personality seemingly beloved by all.

After Ashley leaves, Scarlett discovers Rhett Butler overheard their conversation and many other people suspect her feelings for Ashley. To avoid humiliation she immediately agrees to marry Charles Hamilton, who is in a hurry to wed before he leaves to fight in the Civil War. Soon after they marry and Charles leaves for the war, he becomes ill and dies before ever fighting. Scarlett gives birth to their son, Wade; she doesn't want a baby and resents having to behave like a grieving widow. Eager for a change, she agrees to visit Charles's relatives, including his sister, Melanie—now Ashley's wife—in Atlanta.

Part 2

In Atlanta Scarlett begins to enjoy life again, though she resents being stuck with the placid Melanie. Rhett Butler—who never joined the Confederate army—encourages Scarlett to give up mourning and have fun, and she does. Ashley is now at war but briefly returns home for a visit; when the visit results in Melanie's pregnancy, Scarlett is annoyed. But when Ashley is captured and held in a prison camp, both Scarlett and Melanie are frantic with worry.

Part 3

The conflict is coming closer, and more and more Confederate soldiers are getting killed. Melanie is too far along in her pregnancy to leave Atlanta, so she and Scarlett stay while others evacuate. Melanie gives birth as the Yankees attack Atlanta, and Scarlett must deliver the baby without help. After the child is born, Scarlett decides to take everyone to her family plantation, Tara. She is desperate to get home because her mother and both sisters are seriously ill. Scarlett persuades Rhett Butler to help them escape Atlanta. Then Rhett, affected by the gallantry and courage of the soldiers fighting to defend the South, leaves Scarlett's side to join the army.

Scarlett gets everyone to Tara. The house has been burned but is still standing, but Ellen, Scarlett's mother, has died. Gerald O'Hara is in shock, his mind broken after Ellen's death; Scarlett must take charge of the plantation and care for everyone living there, including Melanie's brand new baby and Scarlett's two ailing sisters. Scarlett works the fields, steals vegetables from neighbors' gardens, and even kills a thieving Yankee deserter. Scarlett and Melanie prevent the Yankees from burning Tara a second time, but the challenges keep coming.

Even after the war ends, things don't get easier until Will Benteen, a former Confederate soldier, arrives at Tara. After Scarlett and Melanie nurse him back to health, he offers to stay and help run the plantation. Then Ashley finally comes home from the prison camp, and everyone is relieved to see him.

Part 4

Will warns Scarlett the new local government is trying to raise taxes on Tara; soon she may be forced to sell the plantation. She doesn't know what to do or where to turn. She asks Ashley's advice, but he has none. She tries to seduce him; although he is tempted, he pushes her away. Scarlett feels she has nothing left to lose; she decides to find Rhett in Atlanta and become his wife or his mistress—if he gives her the money she needs to save Tara. But when she finds Rhett, he is in jail and refuses to give her a cent. So Scarlett instead steals her sister's fiancé, Frank Kennedy, and gets him to marry her. Frank gives her the money to save Tara, and Scarlett borrows money from Rhett to buy a sawmill. Between Scarlett's mills and Frank's store, they begin to make money, but Scarlett never feels satisfied, especially since the hated Yankees are always looking for an excuse to cause problems.

Scarlett's father dies in an accident. Will offers to marry Suellen and stay on at Tara while Ashley, Melanie, and their son, Beau, return to Atlanta with Scarlett. Scarlett appreciates Ashley's presence, even though she is pregnant with Frank's child. Scarlett gives birth to a baby girl, Ella, and Frank is delighted. But he is often out at night, and Scarlett doesn't know why.

Scarlett often drives herself through rough parts of town to visit her mills, and one day she is attacked. That night, unknown to Scarlett, Frank and Ashley go to a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, a racist organization that kills or threatens free African Americans. The Klan members go after Scarlett's attackers; during the fight Frank is killed and Ashley injured. Ashley and the other men escape only with Rhett Butler's help.

Rhett comes to Scarlett soon after Frank is killed. He tells her he is going away and asks her to marry him when he returns. Scarlett hesitates, but Rhett presses her and she agrees. Everyone is horrified by their engagement, but they soon marry.

Part 5

At first Scarlett enjoys being married to Rhett and having lots of money. However, he often angers her with his criticisms, and she is disappointed to learn she is pregnant again. Her daughter with Rhett, nicknamed Bonnie, is adorable, and Rhett worships the child. But Scarlett is still emotionally attached to Ashley, and she tells Rhett she doesn't want any more children. Rhett feels rejected but claims not to care, and he tells her he won't bother to be faithful to her.

Scarlett visits Ashley's office and is caught in an embrace with him. It is a friendly gesture, but only Melanie believes that. Rhett is furious and forces Scarlett into relations with him again; she objects but enjoys the experience. Afterward he is mean to her, leaving her convinced he can't possibly love her. Rhett leaves on a long trip with Bonnie. While he is gone, Scarlett learns she is pregnant again. When she tells Rhett, they argue and Scarlett accidentally falls down the stairs. She has a miscarriage and almost dies; Rhett blames himself. Their marriage deteriorates further when Bonnie dies in a horseback-riding accident.

Scarlett is traveling when she learns Melanie, Ashley's wife, is dying. She races home to be at Melanie's bedside; only now does she realize Melanie was her one true friend.

Scarlett finally comes to understand she was never in love with Ashley; she was in love with her idea of him. She realizes she truly loves Rhett, and she runs home to tell him so. Rhett tells her he did love her very much, but he doesn't any more. He says he doesn't "give a damn" about how she feels or what she does. After he leaves, Scarlett is sad but not hopeless; she is determined to get him back another day because she always lives for the future.

Gone with the Wind Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 Scarlett marries Charles because Ashley won't have her.

Rising Action

2 Charles dies two months into the Civil War.

3 Scarlett saves Melanie when the Yankees attack Atlanta.

4 To save Tara, Scarlett steals her sister's fiancé, Frank.

5 Frank gets killed in a Klan attack.

6 Scarlett marries Rhett Butler.

7 Bonnie, Scarlett and Rhett's daughter, dies.

8 Melanie dies.


9 Scarlett realizes she loves Rhett, not Ashley.

Falling Action

10 Scarlett confesses her feelings to Rhett.

11 Rhett refuses to be reconciled with her.


12 Scarlett decides to "think about it tomorrow" at Tara.

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